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Saint-Saens: Samson et Dalila / Vickers, Dominquez, Fournet

Release Date: 06/08/2004 
Label:  Opera D'oro   Catalog #: 1405   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Ernest BlancJon VickersHenk DrissenPeter Van der Bilt,   ... 
Conductor:  Jean Fournet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio SymphonyNetherlands Radio Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SAINT-SAËNS Samson et Dalila Jean Fournet, cond; Jon Vickers ( Samson ); Oralia Dominguez ( Dalila ); Ernest Blanc ( High Priest ); Henk Driessen ( Abimelech ); Peter van der Bilt ( Old Hebrew ); Netherlands RO/Ch OPERA D’ORO 1405 (2 CDs: 119:21) Read more Live: Amsterdam Radio 2/29/64

This performance is available in two versions, with Opera d’Oro 7028 offering the French libretto and English translation, as well as an essay on the work. It is, however, more than twice the price—so if you don’t mind a summary, or have a libretto at hand, or can go online for one, the less expensive packaging may be for you.

My views of the performance fairly well dovetail those of James Miller in his review of that other package ( Fanfare 30:3). Like him, I have the old EMI set with Vickers and Gorr (sadly out of print at the moment), but find the tenor slightly ill at ease there, and the mezzo imposing rather than beguiling. Vickers tended to nerves and over-meticulousness at times in the studio; not so in this 1964 Amsterdam radio performance. It catches him at the top of his form: “Arrètez, ó mes frères!” is superb, and may have helped inspire the entire subsequent broadcast. Oralia Dominguez never received the recording contracts she deserved, but here she displays just how wrong that was. Both arias, but especially “Printemps qui commence,” are fine examples of seduction, and if she never produces a velvet tone such as one wishes in this role, she is a fine interpreter, capable of softening her voice to good effect.

For the rest, Ernest Blanc, who is in that EMI recording, is every bit as good here, secure of voice, style, and manner, if lacking a tonal quality that draws and holds attention. Like Vickers, he sounds more into the part, consonants sharper, accented words flung out like missiles at his targets. Henk Driessen is good if unremarkable, but the surprise of this broadcast is Peter van der Bilt in “In nous frappait dans sa colère.” He furnishes a magnificent dark bass, suave, focused, and commanding, bowed like a cello, with great attention to phrasing and dynamics.

Jean Fournet is mostly forgotten, but he conducts with energy and great attention to detail. The Netherlands Radio Orchestra of the day does not cover itself with laurels, unfortunately, sporting several missed entries and some ragged sectional playing.

This is my favorite available performance of Samson et Dalila , and has been for some time, in its various LP, tape, and CD incarnations. My second choice, the 1946 recording (currently on EMI 65263) makes up in style and finish what it lacks in the size and power of its voices. But there’s precious little style that Vickers, Dominguez, Blanc, and van der Bilt lack, while a great heroic tenor in the line of bright-voiced Leon Escalais is absolutely required, in my opinion, as Samson. The underrated José Luccioni is certainly very fine, but he misses the gleaming metal timbre of Vickers. Hélène Bouvier in turn has great warmth in her midrange, but the top and the chest sound completely separated from it.

This gets my recommendation, then. And at a budget price, too.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Samson et Dalila, Op. 47 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Ernest Blanc (Baritone), Jon Vickers (Tenor), Henk Drissen (Bass),
Peter Van der Bilt (Baritone), Bert Van t'Hoff (Tenor), Oralia Dominguez (Mezzo Soprano),
Aad de Rijk (Tenor)
Conductor:  Jean Fournet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Symphony,  Netherlands Radio Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; France 
Date of Recording: 02/29/1964 
Venue:  Live  Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

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